Northern Tilea, Spring 2401
It has been a long day already, thought Biagino, and it is not yet ended. His sandaled feet ached, his grey, woollen cassock chafed and his worries refused to be forgotten. Unused to such exercise, his whole frame, of which there was a surfeit, complained in a variety of fashions from the neck down. As a priest of Morr he had rarely been asked to hurry, and although often expected to stand for hours on end when officiating the internment of the rich and powerful, church grounds were not usually as uneven as this present path. He did not complain, however, as he did not wish to appear weak. Considering what they were escaping from, it simply would not do for a Morrite cleric to show fear. If anyone in the company was expected stand this test, it was him.
The company had been wordless now for the best part of an hour, ever since they entered the woods – the silent trees had been all that was needed to tip everyone into their own private thoughts. Not that their passage was quiet. The loads upon the mules’ backs clattered and jingled, the hooves thudded as they threw up clods of clayey soil, whilst the armoured plates on the four knights and their mounts at the head of little column added another clinking and scraping layer of sound. With trees growing thickly on both sides of the track the noise was muffled, and so less likely to be heard elsewhere in the woods.
They were currently somewhere south of Ebino, having already crossed the river there. They had not stayed upon the road, Lord Guglielmo preferring instead to move parallel to it along a much lesser used track. Fearing that the evil power now ruling Miragliano might already reach this far, he had decided it was best not to make things too easy for the foe by travelling openly along the obvious and well-trod route. And so now they traversed through rarely visited woods.
Suddenly, the man walking beside Biagino, a tall servant called Bertoldo who swaggered along with a woodsman’s axe on his shoulders as if it were a weapon for battle and he himself were a soldier, spoke.
“We ain’t exactly what you’d call an army, are we?”
His voice was oddly discordant with the mood of the party, more like a comment made on a quiet afternoon at an alehouse table. “I mean, four knights – one a Lord, I grant you – a pair of squires and us lot.”
One of the mules behind them seemed to take exception to Bertoldo’s unexpected words and brayed in the peculiar manner of such beasts, pulling stubbornly on his rope.
Biagino frowned. “I can assure you, even though I walk here at your side, and freely admit to having supped with you and some of the other servants on occasion, that I am not, as you say, one of you lot. I am an ordained priest of Morr, ‘father’ not ‘brother’, and would be grateful if you address me as such.”
The priest thought that making such a comment would prove that he too was similarly unperturbed by their present situation. Such subtlety was wasted on the Bertoldo, however, who simply nodded absently, as if only half listening.
“Not an army at all,” he repeated, dreamily.
“’Not an army at all, father’,” corrected Biagano half-heartedly, already losing interest in pressing the point concerning his status. “Why?” he asked instead, “Were you expecting an army? We are heading away from trouble, at least for now, not towards it. We are certainly not looking to fight a battle. Or I should say, we are expecting to fight a battle, but only when Lord Guglielmo has obtained an army. Until then, we are merely what we are.”
“Well if we ain’t an army,” said Bertoldo, pointing forwards, “then why is noble Sir Benedetto carrying Duke Alessandro’s battle standard?”
Up ahead, riding beside Lord Guglielmo, Sir Benedetto was indeed carrying the Sforta standard, green within an orange border, emblazoned with the image of a monstrous, coiled serpent in the act of consuming a naked man.
“A banner can be carried by one man,” Biagino answered, somewhat confused. “A knight at that. It doesn’t have to be at the head of an army.”
“I suppose not,” yielded Bertoldo, his subsequent intake of breath pregnant with another question. The priest did not have to wait long. “So why are we carrying Duke Alessandro’s banner, when he is our enemy?”
“Alessandro is now our enemy, of that there is no doubt. He can never be otherwise, for he can never be cured of what he has become, only destroyed. But he is no longer duke.”
That got Bertoldo’s attention. He looked at Biagino with real confusion writ across his face.
“Duke Alessandro is dead,” continued the priest. “Assuming his son is dead too, which seems certain from the reports, then Lord Guglielmo is duke. By rights, the banner is his now.”
“Never thought of that,” admitted the servant. “The duke is dead.”
“And that is why the duke has become our enemy. The worst wickedness in the eyes of Morr is that of vampires, for not only is their vile existence a sinful corruption of all that is right, but they then add insult to injury by raising the dead to serve them.”
“Of that I have never had any doubt, father,” said Bertoldo. “Their naughtiness surely surpasses everyone else’s. Yet … if Duke Alessandro were to command us now, his lawful subjects…”
“We were his subjects, before. But that which speaks with the duke’s voice now is not the duke. Duke Alessandro is gone, supplanted by the demonic spirit that now inhabitants his animated corpse. We owe his corpse no loyalty, only respect. And all chance to show that respect has been taken from us by the demon. That which now calls itself the duke of Miragliano is our enemy, and is indeed the enemy of all mankind. He is a blasphemy, a foul corruption mocking Morr.”
Bertoldo smiled, as if his dreamy musings had quite suddenly turned to happiness. “So we’re not traitors, nor thieves, nor even shirking our duties,” he exclaimed.
“No,” agreed Biagino. “We were once and yet still remain good and loyal subjects …”
“… of the living duke,” said Bertoldo, finishing Biagino’s words for him.
A few moments passed, just enough to make the priest begin to believe the servant was satisfied and might well fall silent once more.
Then Bertoldo piped up again.
“You know the duke would live a lot longer if we just carried on southwards, forgot the whole raising an army business and settled down somewhere safe.”
Biagino did not know where to begin. Losing the will to explain the matter further, not least to a mere servant such as Bertoldo, he was sorely tempted simply to tell the man to hold his tongue, then perhaps to lecture a little upon a servant’s place in the world. But then he remembered his own father had been little better than Bertoldo in station, and the thought was enough to make him try again.
“First, if the duke were to do as you suggest then he would be duke merely in title. Is a shepherd without a flock truly a shepherd?”
“But Duke Guglielmo never had a flock,” answered Bertoldo.
An answer was not what Biagino had intended at all. His question had been rhetorical.
Bertoldo obviously had no idea. “He never ruled Miragliano. He just governed Udolpho in his uncle’s name.”
Trying but failing to hide his exasperation, the priest asked, “Then answer me this. Do you call a shepherd who has no flock and never had a flock before, a shepherd?”
“Probably not,” said Bertoldo. “I’d say he was just a man who wants to be a shepherd.”
Biagino let the thought take a proper root in Bertoldo’s mind for a moment. Then continued, “Don’t get me wrong. Lord Guglielmo is the rightful possessor of the title. He has the blood, and was next in line to inherit. He is by all that is right and lawful the duke. It helps, however, if he has something to be duke of!”
“I have it, father,” said Bertoldo, as if he had just managed to secure a slippery fish that had been writhing in his hands close to escape. “And second?”
Only momentarily satisfied at his apparent success at explaining things, this last comment had Biagino confused.
“You said ‘first’,” explained the servant, “so I thought there’d be a second.”
Gods, but I am tired. “There is a second, though it ought to be first in the minds of all men of faith and sense. Second, it is the duty of all men, Tileans in particular I would say, to fight wickedness and evil. If everyone went south and settled as you so bravely suggest, then who would there be to defend against our enemy? We all die. There is no running away from that. If we do not fight and defeat that which would steal our souls, then we are all doomed.”
“Doomed,” echoed Berdoldo.
At last, he fell silent again. Biagino was left wondering whether his attempts to explain had failed altogether to reassure the servant. Then that concern was washed away by another. Oh, my aching feet.
At the head of the column, Duke Guglielmo rode behind a blunderbuss armed coachman. There was no coach.
He carried his helm beneath his arm, the better to see the woods around him; his sword unsheathed, ready for a fight; and he bore a fixed expression, brooding and stern. He was like unto an equestrian statue, but seated upon a living horse.
Inside his mind, however, there was turmoil.
The Green Corsairs
The storm had finally subsided just before daybreak, and as the roaring thunder, lashing rain and rushing wind all diminished, so too did the shouting. There had been a lot of shouting through the night, mainly by Sea Boss Scarback, the product of anger, frustration and a pressing need not to let things get any worse. Mind you, Scarback was not that sure things could get worse.
As the day dawned the orc sea boss could see that all his ships were gone, either consumed by fire in the fight, lost to the sea or destroyed by the black rocks. Perhaps the skaven always intended that the tempest should hit moments after they engaged in battle, but more likely they simply attacked when the opportunity presented itself, regardless of the weather. Either way, the storm had very much added to the Green Corsairs’ misery.
Even by greenskin standards, the ratmen seemed oblivious to the dangers that the approaching storm presented, a carelessness further proved by the unstable weaponry they employed. The diabolical machines affixed to their bows vomited long, sparking streams of unnaturally green-tinged flames, and their first blast had washed over the galley Bashdemall from bow to stern, killing the crew before they could even leap into the sea. Their second blast had gone catastrophically wrong as the machine burst and blew the entire front half of the skaven ship to pieces, yet this misfortune did nothing to help balance the odds, for the skaven vessels outnumbered the Green Corsairs three to one. Just as the storm hit, the Hullsplitter was boarded by a swarm of ratmen, so that every single orc aboard was matched by uncountable foes. The rest of Scarback’s fleet, attempting at that very moment to turn and so avoid the sheets of fire, had suddenly found themselves cruelly embayed on a lee shore, and so suffered more from the storm than the battle. Scarback’s flagship, the Doombringer, had been driven onto the black rocks by the wind, while the smaller ships Cracker and Orc’s Whelp had both just managed to avoid the same fate, being subsequently yanked out to sea by a rip current. Whether they escaped the Skaven vessels as well as the rocks was anybody’s guess.
The luckiest ship, perhaps, was the Mancrusher, for she had somehow skirted the rocks and run ashore on the one little beach along this particular stretch of the Tilean coast. She was named after a memorable incident when a Sartosan boarder had fallen between her hull and that of the ship he was leaping from, only to be ground into a red smear on the hulls of both ships. The Mancrusher’s smear was later made permanent with an artistic coating of red paint, but it now lay hidden by shadows as she lay careened sharply over on the sand. It would be possible to put her to sea again, but only if Scarback was willing to leave two thirds of his force behind. And he was not.
Scarback had drawn his blade, all the better to point with as he barked his commands, as well as to cut down several contrary goblins who had apparently forgotten who he was in their panic and confusion. Clad in a long coat torn from the bloated corpse of an already fat man his crew fished from the sea a few months back, with his brightly patterned scarf wound about his waist, he took a moment to consider what exactly he might do next.
His first mate Jalgador, whose own viciously curved cutlass had also chastised a goblin or two that night, pointed out to sea. “That’s Doombringer’s mast. She can’t be deep. Y’reckon we can get some stuff off ‘er?”
Boss Scarback peered out into the slowly lightening gloom until he could make it out too – just two feet of mast head, which would not be visible at all if it were not for the raggedy pennant dangling soggily from it.
“No-one would come up again if they went under there,” he said, “the waves and the rocks would see to that, a hammer and anvil to break their bones and crush the air from their lungs.”
“We gots lots o’stuff already,” interrupted the goblin trader Poglin Fangface, who was standing between the two orcs. His oversized panache feather hung heavily from his ragged black hat, and the clawed toes of his left foot stuck out of the hole at the end of his boot. “We gots it piled up behind the rocks.”
Neither orc looked at him, Jaglador merely grunting an acknowledgement. Still staring at the tip of his lost ship’s mast, Scarback was not so sure that ‘lots o’stuff’ was enough.
“We got powder? Good powder?” he asked.
“Three barrels, not countin’ what the lads ‘ad about themselves,” answered Poglin. “Only them that went under for a bit has got soggy powder, the rest is good.”
“We got guns?”
“A brace of ‘em,” said the goblin. “And not little swivels, these is minions. And we got more’n a score of iron roundshot. The powder’s enough to keep ‘em hot for an hour or two.”
“How d’ya get them?” asked Jaglador.
“They’re the chasers from the Mancrusher. Fell right off ‘er onto the sand.”
Boss Scarback now noticed another one of his orcs was coming up the slope towards them, Hogg Yellowtongue, a musket on his shoulder. One of his other guards gave a welcoming ‘ho!’
Hogg had not been in Scarback’s boat, so his presence meant that at least some others from the Doombringer must have got to the shore. Scarback’s quartermaster was on the rocks down below closer to the water, leaning on a long spear. Over the sound of the surf he could not possibly have heard what they had just talked about, but Scarback knew he was probably thinking over the matter of salvage too.
“We ain’t getting anything off her,” Boss Scarback shouted loud enough for the quartermaster to hear. “Look all you like, but she’s lost and all that was on her.”
Jaglador suddenly looked worried. “Boss,” he said, “we ain’t lost the stone, ‘ave we?”
Scarback grinned. “No Jag, we still got it.” He turned to look at the goblin trader. “It’s safe, ain’t it Poggy? You done what I told yer?”
“Two o’ my lads is doin’ it right now boss. We’ll bury it deep and lay a rock o’er the spot. It’s inland a bit, like you said.”
“Good,” said Scarback. “Deep is good, deep is best. Them rats’ll know where it is if it ain’t put deep. They’s hungry for it, enough to try to take it from us. Now if they attack again, they still won’t get. No way. Now they’s gonna have to pay dear if they want it. An’ I mean dear. I’ll have ships and rat’s heads and a pile o’ shiny stuff, and that’s just fer starters. I wants payment and recompense for injuries received.”
“How we gonna get all that?” asked Jaglador.
“Give it time, Jaggy boy. Let ‘em realise it ain’t gone down with the ships, and then they needs must find us. When they see we ain’t carrying it, then they’ll know they gotta pay.” He would have to kill the two goblins who buried it, of course, otherwise they might blab – maybe kill Poglin too, but only if necessary as the trader was useful.
Blissfully ignorant of what Scarback was thinking, Poglin hefted his blunderbuss onto his shoulder, used the back of his free hand to wipe snot from his nose, and asked, “What we do in the meantime, then? Where do we go?”
“Well,” said Scarback, “we don’t stay here. We go, and quickly. Make ‘em think we’re in a rush to get away, like we’re taking the stone with us.”
The other remnants of Scarback’s pirates, mostly goblins, had gathered upon some flat ground inshore from the rocky beach. A few entire companies had survived the chaos of the night, having managed to get into the towed boats, but most were the rag tag remnants of crews lost either in the battle or to the storm and sea. Poglin had mustered every goblin he could find, ordering them to recover anything of any worth whatsoever from the Mancrusher, the wrecks and the surf.
Beside the pair of minions rescued from the ship, the shot and budge barrels, was a pile of casks, boxes, rope and tools. All the salvaged weapons were being carried or had been tucked in belts, as Scarback had ordered everyone made ready for a tussle in case the rats land a force. No one felt particularly safe on the beach, for if even the skaven did not come to finish them off, some local Tileans might take exception to their uninvited presence. Now the goblins were awaiting orders. Heavily armed with cutlasses, pistols, handguns and axes, they looked like a force to be reckoned with.
But Scarback knew better. The goblins could prove useful, but never on their own. Poglin’s rabble made a lot of noise, and were ugly to boot, but if his force was to be taken seriously, he needed as many orcs as he could get. Luckily an entire company of crossbow-armed orcs, the biggest and meanest of the three such companies he had on his ships, had made it to the shore a couple of miles to the south and had marched through the rocky hills to join the other survivors.
With these and his own boys forming the core, the goblins adding numbers, and the artillery pieces some punch, Scarback was satisfied he had just the sort of force he needed for what he intended to do next. “Just a matter of decidin’ where to go,” he declared, as much to himself as to the others.
“What about Viadaza?” suggested Jaglador. “Lord Adolfo will take us on again, if the price is right.”
“No,” said Scarback. “Not without ships he won’t. He don’t use the likes of us in his land army. ‘Cos that’s what we are now – soldiers not sailors. Time was his papa Magledy the Sharp would’ve found us some scrapping to do, but that all changed when Magledy took the whole city and had every greenskin on the streets killed. Adolfo won’t change the law for the likes of us. If we offered our service to him, he’d disarm us, break us up and put us on the galleys as slaves. No, Jaggy boy, we gotta go somewhere we gets to stick together, do some honest scrapping for our pay, and bide our time until the rats get to thinkin’ they have to make a deal. And until they work that out, we ain’t all lonely but instead is part of a bigger mob.”
“So where to?” asked Jaglador.
“Whoever will ‘ave us. Urbimo down to Alcente, there’s plenty might need some muscle. I’ve heard that a Waagh has crossed the Black Gulf, maybe someone will pay us to ‘ave a go at them?”
Poglin began to emit a strange whining noise, then checked himself. “Fightin’ greenskins from the Badlands? There could be millions of ‘em!”
Scarback laughed. “We won’t be on our lonesome. Besides, I don’t mind who I kills or how many I kills, as long as there’s pay for food and drink on the way, and some plunder to be had for all me efforts.”
Now it was Jaglador who laughed. “I could do with the food now. My belly is gurgulating something rotten.”
Note: To see an article on the kit-bashing of the crossbow orcs in the story above, click on Orc Bolters
A Weakening of the Faith
Like many Ridraffan tradesmen, for that was what he was even though he traded in gold rather than for gold, Master Boldshin had servants who left every evening to return to their own homes. Noblemen had servants packed in cellars and attics, or tucked under the stairs, who could be called upon even in the night, but in the city of Ridraffa such practise was considered above the station of a tradesmen. Besides, the fact that Master Boldshin was a dwarf in itself made it more difficult for him to employ manservants – few humans would wish to live under his roof. Nor would most of the rather limited supply of dwarfs in the city be willing to serve him either. Most young dwarfs yearned to find their fortune in engineering, masonry, carpentry, smithing – making things. Usury was not a common ambition among them. As the decades went by those same young dwarfs might well realise the error of their ways as the profits to be made became apparent, but by then they would look to become their own master and not serve some other dwarf.
Right now, as he struggled down the stone stairs in his grey night-shirt and blue striped bed hat, a spluttering candlestick in one hand and Arnholf clutched tight in the other, his famously long beard not just reaching the floor but straying dangerously underfoot, Master Boldshin was regretting his lack of nocturnal help.
His house was strong, built of grey stone with walls as thick as those on a watchtower, as any counting house should be considering the coffers of gold and silver often stored within. The surrounding houses were more traditionally Tilean in style, built in stone, but with shuttered windows and red tiled roofs, rather than the barred windows and strengthened slates on his house. It was not guards he needed, just someone to run down the stairs and answer the door.
He strongly suspected it was a dwarf banging at his door – there was something dwarven about the steady persistence of the rapping. Of course, he himself would not normally knock in such a manner, for he had adapted to Tilean fashions and the ways of men. Only when he was calling about a long, unpaid debt, would the wood take such a beating, often from the clubs carried by the heavies he had hired for the purpose.
“Give an old dwarf a moment,” he cried somewhat breathlessly, almost at the bottom. “The hour is late, I am tired and in no fit state to rush.” The beating ceased, hopefully just in time to forestall shouted complaints from his nearest neighbours. He dragged the three solid, iron bolts back, taking satisfaction from the reassuringly heavy clunk they made, then, just before turning the huge key, he stopped. Best take a look see first. Leaning forwards he placed his eye at the peek hole and peered through. He could see a green hat, a large and floppy thing, and the fingers of a brass hand clutching a smooth and milky rock. Is that what was bashing on my door? he wondered. What sort of visitor is this? It was definitely a dwarf, for otherwise Boldshin would have found himself looking at the fellow’s chest, not his hat.
“Who is it?” he asked, his hand resting on the key but yet to turn.
“Cousin Glammerscale, that’s who it is. And I am wondering when you became so timid, Boldshin, and afraid to so much as open a door.”
Master Boldshin was so surprised to hear the name that at first the insult did not register with him. He had not seen his cousin for many a decade, and they had parted on bad terms. Then the echo of Glammerscale’s words in his mind finally caught his attention.
“Timid!” he snapped, beginning the two turns of the key that would be required to unlock the door. “My caution is not timidity but common sense. Have you forgotten my trade, cousin?” He pulled upon the door. “An unwary moneylender is not likely to thrive.”
Even though he had already glimpsed the floppy hat, the sight of his cousin caught him by surprise. The brass fingers and the orb they held proved to be the head of a wizard’s staff, which in the hands of a dwarf seemed to him ridiculous. And it was not just the staff that marked his cousin out as a wizard. The hem of Glammerscale’s orange coat was decorated with silver moons and suns, and beneath his arm he clutched two large tomes bound in leather, no doubt stuffed with arcane knowledge of a most undwarfen kind. The ensemble was not improved by the red tinted eye glasses he had perched on his nose, his eyes peering over their horned rims.
It was not that Boldshin did not know Glammerscale claimed to be a practitioner of the magical arts – it was the very thing that had caused them to part their ways all those years ago – just that actually witnessing his cousin garbed and accoutred as a wizard took his breath away.
“Erm …?” he said.
“The word you are looking for,” suggested Glammerscale, “is ‘Hello’, or maybe ‘Good day’, or if I may be so bold as to advise you on the etiquette appropriate for such an occasion, perhaps ‘Welcome’ followed quickly – and this is merely a suggestion – with ‘Come in’.”
“You did it?”
The wizard dwarf’s eyes narrowed as they looked over the top of his strange spectacles. “You talk less than I remember, but make as little sense. Cousin, will you let us in? I must speak with you.”
Boldshin looked past Glammerscale at the two dwarfs behind him. They were plainly clad, neatly trimmed, silent and obviously well fed. It irked him that his insane cousin turned wizard could apparently find dwarfen servants while a prosperous fellow such as himself had to make do with part-time men. This thought added a tinge of frustration to his confusion, and did nothing to improve his foul mood. Better get them of the doorstep he decided, before the neighbours see them.
“Come inside, quick now. Do not linger there.”
Glammerscale grinned knowingly, then he and his two companions followed Boldshin in. After some kafuffle over where best to lay the books, where exactly everyone should sit or stand and some embarrassing questions concerning Arnulf the stuffed bear, the little company settled to drink some ale and talk.
“I have to ask, cousin,” enquired Glammerscale. “What is it I have done?”
The question meant nothing to Boldshin.
“At the threshold,” clarified the wizard dwarf, “you said I ‘did it’? Such a statement demands a response, I reckon, and I willing to give one I can assure you. If only I knew what was being said.”
“Oh,” said Boldshin. “I meant only that you are a wizard. Or at least, you appear to be one.”
“I am one,” Glammerscale replied quickly. “Surely you remember me well enough to know that I am not the sort if dwarf to feign accomplishments I have not earned, nor claim abilities I do not possess. I do not claim to be a wizard merely because my name sounds right. And before you ask, no, I will not cast a spell to prove the truth of my claim.”
“No, do not.” Mild panic laced Boldshin’s voice as he imagined magically conjured flames washing through the room, singeing every precious thing in it in the process.
The wizard dwarf smiled. “Then we are agreed on what not to do. I am glad. But what concerns me is quite the opposite.”
Boldshin was beginning to wonder if his cousin was deliberately trying to confuse him. “The opposite being …?”
“What to do.”
Now Boldshin understood. He gulped down a large mouthful of ale, wiped his whiskers on the sleeve of his night-gown, and resolved, as it was his house and he was the host, to take more control of the conversation. “First things first. Cousin, why are you here? Last I heard you were living in Pavona, apprenticed to a grey beard Tilean who was nevertheless younger than you by many years.”
“Until a mere month ago I was indeed in Pavona, but no longer an apprentice, as I thought we had already established. Until quite suddenly it became apparent that I, along with every other dwarf in the city, had outstayed my welcome.”
“All of us, even those of less eccentric bents, being of course every other dwarf in the city. My good servants and I left the very day of Duke Guidobaldo’s decree. Those who stayed to voice complaint followed only days later, though in a rather less comfortable fashion.”
This news was as unexpected as just about everything else since Boldshin had opened the door to his cousin. “Why?” he asked.
“It seemed the sensible thing to do. I knew the way the wind was blowing, so to speak, and to linger would be most foolish.”
“No,” said Boldshin, now convinced his cousin was deliberately walking one step to the left of the conversation. “I mean why have the dwarfs been cast out?”
Glammerscale laughed again. “It’s a good thing you are asking me, for I believe most Pavonan dwarfs would struggle to make sense of their banishment – those who tarried when we left were surely having difficulty getting their heads around it. You see, the duke is a religious man, becoming ever moreso in latter years, and his faith has manifested as a most jealous love his own god to the cost of all other gods, especially those not of the Tilean churches of men. There is no longer a place for Grungi, Grimnir or Valaya in Pavona, nor for those who pray to them. You must have heard the boast that not one stone in any Pavonan temple was carved by a dwarf. Well, it would seem that now they don’t want dwarfs even near their precious temples.”
This was not good. Boldshin was already reckoning up what was owed to him by several Pavonans, and what losses would be incurred if they decided to take their dislike of dwarfs a step further and renege on their debts.
Glammerscale apparently failed to notice his cousin’s distraction. “Pavonans have never been known for their fondness of strangers. I do not think I have ever seen an elf in the city, though many a dwarf would say that was no bad thing, and the only ogres I have witnessed there were brought to die in a fighting pit. I have seen Bretonnians mocked by ruffians in the street, as if their very presence somehow besmirched the architecture of so fashionable a city. Duchess Elisabetta prettified the city, and made it a place of learning too. That’s the very reason I went there. But the Pavonans grew arrogant with it, thinking themselves better than others. The plague of 87 turned that arrogance into suspicion, and although no-one ever blamed the dwarfs for it, I think the Duke now believes that our continued presence so weakens the strength and purity of their faith that the curse left by the plague could not be lifted. It is a city dedicated to Morr, and yet every night is haunted by restless souls. That contradiction has gnawed away at the Pavonans until now they act desperately, and cruelly, to amend their ways.”
That’s not so bad, thought Boldshin. If the Pavonans were looking to purify themselves, and put things right before their god, then leaving lawful debts unpaid would not be the way to go about it. Among various duties, Morrites were supposed to settle their debts before they left this life, or put in place a means to honour them, so that their souls were not in any way lured back by the concerns of the living world.
He realised Glammerscale was still speaking. “… so I shan’t stay long, I imagine. Just until I can settle the matter of my property and possessions, and find a place to continue my studies.”
“In times like these I should think you would not want to remain so isolated. Let us hope the good people of Ridraffa don’t follow Pavona’s lead.”
Boldshin could not argue, not with his cousin. He was both stern and unforgiving when he had to be with debtors, but they were men, not dwarfs. Besides, his cousin was not only right, he had brought two servants. Being one of four dwarfs in times of trouble had to be better than being alone.
Everything Astiano Has to Offer
The walled town of Astiano, upon the Via Aurelia, beside the River Remo
The Pavonans had been complaining about the tolls for some time, but the people of Astiano cared not a jot. It was their road, their stretch of river – they should be able to charge whatever they like for passage. Yes, it was the Pavonans best trade route to the north and west of Tilea, but the folk of Astiano could not help that. Just a matter iof geography. Besides, the Pavonans were no doubt still able to make a profit from their trade.
Now, however, the situation has taken a turn for the worse. The Pavonans had gone from angry words, complaints, petitions and paper battles to war. An army was approaching, with artillery and massed ranks of foot. It appeared very much like they were going to make a serious attempt at storming the walls. Which meant the people of Astiano had to make a serious attempt at defending their town.
The trouble was, there was not much time – certainly not time enough to hire more mercenaries. So it was that they mustered everything they had and reviewed it, marching out to drill before the walls.
Two pieces of artillery were in working order, and powder and shot was found for both. The company of Condotta marksmen armed with handguns who had been guarding the gates were the only professional soldiers they had …
… apart from the condotta captain to whom the company belonged to. He would now command the entire garrison.
Every caravan guard, bodyguard and bravi in the town was mustered into a regiment, proudly carrying the town’s colours.
While every other able-bodied man was pressed into service, whether they were servants, peasants, or apprentices. A ramshackle lot they made, but surely able to defend a castle wall.
497 points plus 2 cannons
Condotta Captain 54 points
M4 WS5 BS5 S4 T4 W2 I5 A3 Ld8
Hand weapon, heavy armor (+2 points), additional hand weapon (+2 points)
12 Condotta Marksmen 133 pts
M4 WS3 BS3 S3 T3 W1 I3 A1 Ld7
Equipment: hand weapon, light armor, handgun, full command
20 Bravi 165 points
M4 WS4 BS3 S3 T3 W1 I4 A1 Ld7
Hand weapon, shields (+1 point), light armour (+1 point), full command
10 Brigands 70 points
M5 WS2 BS4 S3 T3 W1 I3 A1 Ld6
Equipment: hand weapon, short bow. Skirmishers.
25 Peasants 75 points
M4 WS2 BS3 S3 T3 W1 I2 A1 Ld6
Equipment: hand weapon.
2 Great Cannons 220 points
The Assault on Astiano
Captain Bramante employed his spy glass to scrutinise the foe as they approached over the open ground before the town’s northern walls. When he saw that the foe meant to assault with artillery and ladders alone, he ordered every company onto the walls, except for the small company of brigands – they were to wait behind the wall until he could decide which tower they could be best employed in.
(Scenario Rules in a nutshell: Wall, Tower and Gate damage as per 6th ed WFB rules. Ladder assaults only possible against walls, using a modified version of the 8th ed building rules giving the defenders +1 to hit and the poor fellers hanging on the ladders -1 to hit. Game length 7 turns, victory decided upon how many wall and tower sections are held at the end of turn 7.)
As the Pavonan force, an army entirely liveried in blue and white, arrayed themselves in a neat line for the assault, one of the defending artillery sent a lucky shot smashing into one of their cannons. Refusing to allow this unlucky start to the fight to dismay them, the Pavonan crew of the second great cannon fired at the gate, smashing it open with their first shot – a sight which made them instantly forget what had just happened to their other cannon. A cheer went through the lines and the entire army marched forwards, handgunners and bowmen included.
Having shouted orders to send the short-bow armed brigands to the gate tower only moments before the gate was shattered, Captain Bramante now needed no spy glass to study the foe.
“Steady lads,” he shouted as the striped flag of Astiano fluttered beside him. “Let’s see what else our own artillery and handguns can do to them before we worry about the broken gate.”
Several of the bravi nodded, deciding if they needed to descend to defend the gate then they would – it was still no easy thing for the enemy to burst through a defended tower. (Normal building rules would now apply to the gateless tower.)
But just then the foe delivered a second, equally unexpected and cruel blow, for they had a wizard in their midst who conjured a fireball and sent it washing over the wall to hit the bravi full on, singing all of them and killing eight. As a consequence even the captain joined them as they ran screaming (and smoking) from the parapet. (Note: Failed a double LD test – another assault scenario rule was that defenders on castle walls re-roll LD tests as if their Army Standard was nearby.
They did, however, rally once they were down on the ground, and the initial shock had worn off. “That’s it,” shouted the captain. “Looks like we will be defending the gate after all!”
Outside, every Pavonan could see the ruinous state of the gate …
… but only one regiment, a body of swordsmen led by several officers including one fully armoured nobleman mounted on horse, was headed directly towards it. The rest had their ladders and were approaching the walls.
Needless to say, perhaps, it was the swordsmen who now received a hail of arrows, roundshot and bullets. A good number fell, but they did not run.
Further from the walls, the Pavonans had dragged a volley gun up within range, the crew of which were now debating whether they should risk a shot or two in light of the fact that their bullets would very likely have very little effect against a foe sheltered behind stone walls, and every shot risked disaster for a gun as dangerously unstable as theirs.
They took a vote, and decided two to one that they were here so they might as well join in. Thus followed four volleys in a row, until the barrels were glowing red and several component parts has shaken loose. Their efforts added considerable noise to the battle, a veritable thunder storm of blasts, but failed to harm the foe at all. The crew, however, were happy. They were not only alive, and their engine had proved itself reliable.
Now it was the turn of the mercenary handgunners to receive the wizard’s attention. As they loaded their pieces, glancing nervously over the crenulations at the approaching regiments, they could indeed see him clearly – he was the only man not garbed in blue and white.
As they feared, he had a fireball for them too – five fell screaming from the parapet as the wooden bottles on their bandoliers exploded like grenadoes. The survivors, veterans of several years’ service, were made of tougher stuff than the bravi, and went on loading, each vowing they would make the foe pay for the death of their comrades.
While the Pavonan attackers sent a storm of bullets and arrows bouncing off the stone walls, Captain Bramanti led his rallied bravi in good order towards the gate.
Upon the other side, the mounted knight and his surviving swordsmen – another noblemen and the wizard amongst them too – had reached to gate and set about storming it immediately.
Along the walls the Pavonan halberdiers had also reached the wall and as the assembled peasants, labourers and apprentices of the town hurled stones at them, began laying their assault ladders against the stone.
Now the real battle began. The nobleman at the gate, who was no other than Lord Polcario of Pavona, son of the ruling Duke, led his swordsmen between the splintered remnants and made mincemeat of the defending brigands. When they then burst through the inner gate …
… they were immediately met by the good captain and his colourful band of bravi
Meanwhile, as the handgunners on the wall beside the gate fought to the very last man against the halberdiers below them …
… elsewhere the town’s defence crumbled. Captain Bramanti was cut down by the young Lord Polcario, after which his surviving bravi broke and fled down the main street of the town, rallying only long enough to look back at the walls and see that their cause was lost. The peasants were driven (almost easily) from the walls. They too rallied, and waving pitchforks and scythes in the air, foolishly launched a charge against the inside of the walls, no defended by halberdiers. The Pavonans were laughing as they struck deadly blows with their halberds and chased the peasants away for good.
The walls and gates were taken. The defenders were running for the other gates, not even stopping to loot on their way.
Astiano had fallen.
Next Installment Part 2